The Fight For School Safety: Students Rebel
Since the mass school shooting in Columbine, America has seemed almost powerless against rogue gunmen attacking defenseless suburban schools. After the tragic killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, many declared that if America did not make changes after Newtown it never would.
Those in despair never considered that the young would rise up and take safety into their own hands. Students in Parkland, Florida stood up, and a nation of children followed. In walkouts and rallies, they have expressed their frustration. They are tired of coming to school in fear and wondering if their school might be next. And more so, they are tired of their lives being diminished to talking points during political debate, Parkland students stood up and a nation of children followed.
Local students join host Frank Stasio to share their stories of fear, inspiration and hope. North Carolina Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) explains how the newly formed School Safety Committee intends to make classes safe. Plus, Joshua Lazard, a former public school student in Chicago and the current minister for student engagement at Duke University Chapel penned an op-ed for The News & Observer expressing his thoughts about curbing school shootings. But is suburbia ready to use inner-city school tactics?
WUNC education reporter Liz Schlemmer on the concerns of students around the state:
I think a lot of these walkouts were memorials to the Parkland shooting and to the victims … But then they also, on their own, talked about gun control or about their own safety and the things that they would like to see. And they really want to be heard by adults.
Republican Rep. David Lewis on being cautious about the approach to school safety:
I think it’s important to understand that when we’re looking at school safety there are multiple factors that have to be considered. I can guarantee you that we can make the schools safe, but they will also look like prisons if we take the steps that we know how to take now. The metal detectors, the fences, clear book bags, and things like that. People have all thrown out those ideas.
Matti Kauftheil helped plan the protest at Woods Charter School in Chapel Hill. Matti's thoughts on school resource officers:
I do get concerned when you bring SROs onto campus, because sometimes that can target minority groups. At Woods we don’t have SROs on campus, but people that I know – I know someone who goes to school in Baltimore and the SROs really target people of color and minority groups. People in the LGBTQ+ feel targeted by that, and I think that would be my concern. If we use SROs to protect, it might not protect everyone.
Chapel Hill High School student Zainab Antepli on her speech at the march in Raleigh:
I basically said that enough is enough. And that we need stronger enforcements of the gun laws that are in place and more legislation. I called for our senators to start acting like adults and write actual pieces of legislation and get them passed. And that students lives are not statistics. We are not NRA funding money to campaigns – that we are actual human beings. And that we are afraid to go to school, and that is unacceptable.
Zainab Antepli on how the 2015 shooting of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill hit her community:
It was a really scary day. We woke to chaos and to panic. My brother and I didn’t go to school that day. And that was the first time that I felt scared in my community because never before had that happened. My parents were worried … It was really personal, and it was really hurtful, because I was never threatened before that. And as a Muslim I’ve always been proud, and I’ve never not talked about it, and I’ve had open discussions with people about it. But that was the first time that gun violence had ever directly affected me.
Many students in the Triangle protested with large crowds and school support. Luke Collins of Polk County High School on the challenges of planning a rally in the rural area of Columbus, North Carolina:
Throughout our community there was more backlash than support, but that backlash came primarily over social media. Within our student body it was very negative, but in our community in general it was very positive … Basically the backlash was from the students who support having guns and keeping guns around and were kinda undermining the true meaning of our march our walkout.
Woods Charter School English teacher Sarah Koppelkam on creating an environment for students to express their views:
We like to think of our school as a place where you can have conversations around difficult issues. And where we support student activism regardless of our political leanings … In a school like ours, which is somewhat rural and somewhat closer to Chapel Hill, we have quite a mix of political beliefs, and so I know as teachers we are always navigating the waters between those two sides.
Joshua Lazard is a supporter of metal detectors and feels society’s reluctance to adopt simple, proven strategies that work in inner-city schools has undertones of racism and classism. He recounts his experience at an inner city school in Chicago:
For me growing up in Chicago in the 1990s, this was normal. All of my friends, if you went to a Chicago public high school, you went through metal detectors everyday. There was the possibility of searches of your book bags every single day. I didn’t necessarily feel like I was a criminal walking into school. I actually felt safe.